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We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Shoulder checks vital for road safety

March 4, 2011

By Steve Wallace, Victoria Times Colonist March 4, 2011

Drivers should check over their shoulder before every lateral driving manoeuvre, including lane changing, turning, passing and parking.

This necessary head turn is obvious to professional drivers and all too often a mystery to the average driver. There is a blind spot over each shoulder, which goes unseen by drivers when they choose to turn, change lanes or enter and leave the road. Mirrors are an effective way to check for hazards around your vehicle, but this safety check must be combined with a head turn in the direction that the driver wishes to go.

It is important to properly adjust the rear-view and side-view mirrors. The rear view mirror should be set to reflect the maximum distance behind your vehicle. It should be slightly offset to the right in order to better cut down on the right side blind spot.
There is a new and better way to use the side view mirrors. Assume your normal driving position. Open the driver’s window and move your head slightly out the window. Make sure you can see the side of your car while looking in the mirror, then assume the normal driving posture. When adjusted this way, your mirror will be more useful in cutting down the blind spot. This is how the pros set their mirrors up for maximum visibility.

The pros would never be caught without convex mirrors attached to, or as part of, their side-view mirror assembly. Convex mirrors should have been standard equipment on vehicles long ago. Their usefulness is undisputed among drivers who spent a lot of time on the road. Every driver should have them. If you do not have convex mirrors, my advice is simple: Buy a set at any automotive retailer -they can be had for about $10. Be sure to get the adjustable type. These convex mirrors do not eliminate the need to check the shoulders, but they sure do reduce the blind-spot area.

Drivers should get into the habit of shoulder checking whenever a turn signal is activated. The required check is often a slight head turn, rather than a full upper body movement. Too many inexperienced drivers accentuate the shoulder check, to such an extent that they actually move the vehicle in the direction of the blind spot. In order to see if you are getting the proper angle of observation, it is often an advantage to have someone stand in the blind spot over the driver’s shoulder. Once the mirrors are set up to the driver’s satisfaction, it is good to have another person walk a 360 degree circle around your parked vehicle. Each time the person walking around the vehicle disappears from the mirror image, it would necessitate a head turn by the parked driver in order to locate the person standing in the blind-spot area. Some vehicles have huge blind spots, while others have ample window space allowing for great visibility. Know your vehicle, its visibility advantages and its limitations. Today’s traffic is a much more complicated blend of various modes of transportation. Bicycle lanes are more numerous today and make shoulder checks imperative. Two-wheeled scooters, both electric-and gas-powered, are more numerous every year. Pedestrians, skateboards, support walkers and battery-powered four-and three-wheeled sidewalk scooters are all reasons to be more vigilant about checking the shoulder areas for anything and anybody who might have entered unnoticed into the driver’s blind spot area.

The potential for serious injury and fatal traffic crashes with vulnerable, smaller unprotected vehicles sharing our roads can be reduced significantly by the simple turn of the head. Do it, for safety’s sake.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

stevedwallace@shaw.ca
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